The true nature of people and nations are revealed when the uncertainty of cataclysmic events open imperceptible fissures in society. If Covid-19 is our generation’s cataclysm, what then does it reveal about Canada’s national soul, one fashioned in sight of its southern neighbor? Contrary to the myth of a welcoming inclusive people, Covid-19 sowed division along economic lines, as policy afforded professionals protection and a salaried paycheque, while the working class was subject to job insecurity and the daily indignity of restrictions. It was clear from the onset who public health thought was essential for societal function.
The Canadian trucker movement sprang from working class resentment in response to the technocratic cruelty of the nation’s Covid-19 strategy. This populist movement captured the imaginations of Canadians demoralized by the relentless groupthink of government. The movement touched on classic romantic themes, the power of the individual, a wrong to be righted, and a quintessential cross country adventure. This was Canada’s socially responsible version of “Easy Rider” where drinking and carousing was replaced with a morally powered mission.
It has been remarkable to watch this movement snake its way across the country. Supportive demonstrations spontaneously arose at overpasses on highways throughout Canada. It was more than temporary patriotic euphoria; individuals and religious groups were opening their homes and congregations in logistical support. This convoy, powered through social media, has perhaps come to represent what John Raulston Saul called “The Idea of Canada”. At its heart lies an egalitarianism, where the needs of the individual and group are balanced and maintained through the preferred tradition of negotiation. The public health community stomped on this tradition by unilaterally introducing the violent concepts of lockdown and social isolation. Could it be that truckers mobilized to restore Canada’s sense of self?
Canada, as Saul acerbically notes, is burdened with the laziest and most incurious elite in the world. It is consequently unsurprisingly that as the convoy arrived in Ottawa, the prime minister, the opposition and the media class, working from a safe distance, labelled truckers as “racists” and funded by dark outside forces. These pronouncements fell flat as they failed to match ground level, populous reality and the deep diversity within the trucking industry as noted by free lance journalists such as Rupa Subramanya. It was in retrospect one of the more significant political blunders, driving a wedge deep between the professional and working class. Canada’s spirit of egalitarianism was being openly challenged by centralized power, and with that, distrust and retrenchment grew within this worker’s movement. It seemed the preferred solution to the unnerving Covid-19 crisis was to reject rather than embrace Canada’s tradition of respectful negotiation.
The Canadian Trucker movement is the most significant political event in recent times and it has exploded long held Canadian myths. Perhaps, the most self indulgent has been the view that Canadian governance is pragmatic, responsible and in essence “good”. This foundational belief can’t be squared with the chaos of a two year public health campaign, notable for its lavish expenditures, destruction of education and small business, and its failure to protect those at risk. For many in this movement, the legitimacy of government has collapsed and its restoration remains in question even if a robust public inquiry is executed. The trucker movement has also revealed, to the surprise of many, the extent to which Trumpian tactics have embedded themselves into the Canadian political landscape, in place of negotiation and reasoned debate. Political actors routinely deploy loaded emotional language to signal like-minded citizens in pursuit of power. Harsh polarization of the electorate along demographic lines is just as effective in Canada at controlling the levers of government.
The grievances propelling the Canadian Trucker movement will in time subside as our nation’s capricious Covid-19 response is dismantled. The question moving forward will be to legacy, beyond the short term dispatching of an oppositional leader and dramatic poll swings pushing the country towards reopening. It is easy for those in power to dismiss others as inconsequential in the shaping the course of a nation. But was the “My Canada Includes Quebec” campaign, its origins also within the trucking industry, immaterial to the 1995 Quebec referendum and to the acceptance of this province’s uniqueness within Canadian confederation? Let us romantically consider the Trucker’s movement as the stimulus needed for a neglectful electorate to address creeping centralization which has squandered innumerate resources, disempowered communities and shrunk the Canadian imagination. Could the Truckers’ working class ethos be the antidote needed to reground a country and to reinvigorate communities and individuals to shape their own future? Lets us dream that the closure of the Covid-19 response will lead to a re-emergence of traditional Canada, one confident with its voice and independent of distant international consensus.